Owning or leading a business can be tough. It's a role that requires round-the-clock dedication as you put out fires and make strategic plans. Even though there's no clock-out time and you're always working, it's an immensely rewarding experience. You get to watch your plans come to fruition and see the business you built grow, evolve and flourish.
But success doesn't come from hard work alone. Purposeful work is much more important.
I became a business owner when I was a 20-year-old college student, and I quickly realized that the one thing that I didn't have enough of was time. Luckily, I developed time-management skills that helped me focus on purposeful work, rather than spinning my tires on tasks that didn't get my business closer to its goals. Here are the five things that I learned about time management as a business leader that still serve me to this day.
1. Learn to ask for help.
One of the biggest things people have trouble with is asking others for help. Business leaders often feel like they need to know it all or do everything on their own. That's not only far from the truth, it's also counterproductive.
The first thing you have to learn about time management is that there are only so many hours in the day, and each task – no matter how small, quick or easy – demands your time and attention. Anything a team member, partner or friend can do to help increases the time you can dedicate to critical responsibilities, which is especially important when your company is in its startup phase. Asking for help with work-related tasks and personal tasks is always OK; most everyone in your life will understand how hard you're working and will help you if you ask them. Just be sure to show them how much you appreciate their assistance.
2. Delegate tasks often.
Delegating tasks is like asking for help, but at the next level. Build the teams you need around you to get things done. These teams should largely be able to operate independently and have the potential to become departments that can handle all the tasks the organization requires. The best business leaders create environments where employees can work proactively.
When you first launch a business, you wear every hat. Unless you have a great deal of investment money, you're likely not opening your doors with prebuilt teams. As time goes on, you need to bring people in to take over these tasks and slowly step away. If the bulk of your work doesn't deal with building the organization and strategic planning – in other words, if you're focusing all your time on operations or team management – that's a sign that you don't have the team in place that you need, or you're not giving them the tools they need.
3. Trust your team members.
Once you've got the right teams in place, you've got to trust your team members! After, all, you selected them for a reason. All too often I see business leaders trying to micromanage their teams for fear of something going wrong. You know that adage, "if you want something done right, do it yourself?" Throw it out the window. If you've built your teams the right way, then you've got all the talent and creativity that you need at your disposal.
When you delegate a task, you've got to trust your team members to complete it on time and in their own way. Even if their methods are different from yours, try to remember that it's the results that count. As time goes on and teams start to succeed, your trust in them should grow. If that's not the case, it might be time to reassess whether your teams are built properly or if you haven't selected the right people.
4. Make lists and stick to them (but not too rigidly).
To-do lists are great, and there are a million articles and books on how to organize your priorities properly. The truth is, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that you have a method and stick to it until it becomes a habit. Some people write down their top five priorities for the day, some make a scratch list for the week, and others have systems all their own. It really doesn't matter what kind of lists you start making, or even if those lists evolve over time. You just must start making lists and sticking to the tasks you've decided on.
But don't stick to them too tightly. Like everything else in business and in life, you've got to keep your to-do list adaptable. To-do lists, at their core, are really about priority setting. Develop the ability to realize whether a new priority supersedes another item on your to-do list. If you've got the time to tackle them both, that's great! But if you don't, you must determine which is more important to your success in the immediate term.
5. Be flexible.
Finally, you must remain flexible and, of course, be willing to work long hours. Time management can reduce the time you waste on unproductive tasks or tasks that could have been delegated, but there is no substitute for the 10-, 12- or 14-hour workday. Be careful not to burn yourself out, but there will be times when nurturing your business and growing it into a successful company require your constant attention. As a business leader, you must be the first one in and the last to leave: It sets an example for your employees and provides you with a larger window of opportunity to complete important work.